By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Following widespread reports of child abuse over allegations of witchcraft across the country, stakeholders yesterday converged on Abuja to fashion out ways of stemming the negative trend.
National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other related Matters, NAPTIP, which convened the forum, said it was not only determined to put an end to the uncanny phenomenon but also to provide succor to the victims.
Only two weeks ago, Vanguard reported the acid bath of Comfort Sunday, a JSS 2 student of Government Secondary School, Akwanga, Nasarawa State, by her own father for allegedly causing socio-economic backwardness in the family through witchcraft.
NAPTIP, which yesterday expressed worry over the growing incidence of stigmatization of children tagged witches in Nasarawa, Kaduna and Akwa Ibom states, warned that it would not hesitate to prosecute any parent found to have in any way abused or victimized his child over such unfounded allegation.
According to the Executive Secretary of NAPTIP, Simon C. Egede, “the agency has been greatly worried about this growing incidence of stigmatization of children as witches, especially in Nasarawa, Kaduna and Akwa Ibom states. When we visited the three states, we saw some of these children, some have been brutalized, some of them have been disowned by their parents, some of them are sleeping on the streets, exposed to all kinds of environmental hazards and different street dangers.
The Child Right Act
“The Child Right Act prohibits this kind of treatment to children. As for the father who poured acid on the daughter and totally incapacitated her face, the police are on the case and we will ensure that he is prosecuted accordingly.
“Even though we are championing the criminal aspect of putting an end to the trend, we are, however, more concerned about prevention of more of such acts. This is what informed our decision to go to these three badly affected states to hold series of meetings, consultations and enlightenment campaigns with all the relevant stakeholders.
Tasks traditional rulers and religious leaders
“We specifically tasked both traditional rulers and religious leaders to help in sensitizing their members on the need to desist from such inhuman acts of barbarism against innocent children who are nothing but sweet gifts from God. If they are leaders of tomorrow, victimizing them in such manner is tantamount to jeopardizing the future of this nation.
“We are having serious discussions with the government officials in these states on the need to cur this child witchcraft stigmatization.”
With the support of UNODC, governments of Finland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, we are going to put an end to it.”
On the issue of human trafficking in Nigeria, the NAPTIP boss further maintained that, “There is no doubt that many Nigerian girls have been illegally smuggled out of this country to abroad for prostitution, we have intensified our efforts in this area especially as it concerns Italy, we are using this medium to urge the National Assembly to make haste and pass the NAPTIP bill into law as this will further strengthen our efforts towards abating this situation which has continued to bring disrepute to the good image of this great country.
“We are in discussions with the German police, with the Netherlands police and with the Swedish police in furtherance of our efforts to work together to share experiences, intelligence and to cooperate in the area of investigation of not just the issue of human trafficking but on other organized crimes associated with it.
“In view of this, we have entered an MOU with the Italian mafia police intelligentsia, as well as partnering with SMEDAN to sensitize mothers against giving out their children in ways that could best be described as modern day slavery.
“As an agency, I want to state that NAPTIP will never be tired of identifying measures, developing programmes, initiating actions and executing them to combat TIP.
We are resilient and determined to collectively constitute a strong barricade to human trafficking in Nigeria and beyond
“As part of the Agency’s efforts to build capacity of officers for optimal performance, NAPTIP, with the support from the UNODC under the project NGA/S84: capacity building for implementation of the national action plan against human trafficking, carried out the training of 40 NAPTIP officers on ‘modern techniques in public information dissemination. In the same vein, another batch of 50 officers were trained on ‘stress and trauma management for victims of human trafficking.
“It is not surprising therefore that the US department of state, in its 2010 Annual TIP report, decided to sustain Nigeria in the Tier 1 status in global rating on TIP which translates to full compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.
“We must however remember that it is not yet uhuru until the battle is finally and decisively won”, he added.